reason4thehope

Thinking about life, faith and the world.

Archive for the month “February, 2013”

Hypocrites Are People, Too

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'” – Matthew 15:7-8 (NIV)

"No drama" sign with the dramatic ma...

“Church is full of hypocrites.”

This refrain surely keeps thousands if not millions of seats empty in sanctuaries every Sunday. For some people, religious hypocrisy makes church truly distasteful. Others find it a convenient excuse when really, their weary bones want to stay planted on the sofa for the Sabbath. For still others, the real issue is indifference or hostility toward God, if not outright unbelief.

Whatever the truth behind the excuse, let’s be clear about a couple of things:

• Yes, there are hypocrites in church.

• All of them are human.

The “so-what” of hypocrisy in church depends on how you define it. If Jesus were talking today about hypocrites in the religious elite, I wonder if he might have used use the term “posers.” The word he used literally meant “actors.” He was speaking of a cynical, fraudulent religiosity adopted for personal gain – social status, power, influence, money, whatever motivated the Pharisees and teachers of the law in His day. So yes, if you see a church full of Christian posers, it’s probably best to stay away. Pray for them to one day find authentic faith. But unless God clearly calls you to be a light for Him in their midst, steer clear. If the poser is in the pulpit, steer doubly clear. Such a person has a long road to real redemption, as he’s apt to believe his own press clippings, even if he’s the one making them up.

If your definition of a hypocrite is someone who professes to be a Christian but still sins, still shows negative personality traits, still struggles with pride or prejudice – meet the human race. If you’re a believer, you’re still commanded to love those people, as they are commanded to love you with all of your foibles. That doesn’t mean you grit your teeth, shut your eyes and grunt until the feelings of love well up within your heart. It means you draw on the love the Father and the Son give through the Spirit, and you behave lovingly toward those people, personal feelings aside. You can only do that by being with those people, obeying the Bible’s teaching: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Also, ask yourself this: If you look around church, or any assembly of Christians, and all you see are hypocrites, what is the real problem? Maybe you’re holding your brothers and sisters in Christ to a standard that no one, including you, can meet. If we could achieve that standard in this life, we wouldn’t have needed Christ to go to the cross for us. Or as Paul succinctly put it: “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (Romans 14:10 NIV)

If you’re outside the faith, and you say hypocrisy repels you and destroys the church’s credibility, then please understand the meaning of faith. The cross is not a magic wand that ends all sinning, nor is it a token earned through good behavior. It is, to use a well-worn metaphor, a bridge between us and God. Jesus’ death on the cross in your place makes you clean in God’s sight as soon as you receive the free gift – even though you’ll continue to struggle against sinful behavior until the day you die. Jesus’ resurrection ensures that your death will be merely a passage to eternity with Him, where all sin will be gone.

So if you see Christians still sinning, there’s a reason: they’re still human, still works in progress. Their bad behavior will give you no excuse when you stand before God. It will come down to one question: What did you do with Jesus?

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Should This Be a Thing?

thing

Test all things; hold fast what is good. – 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NKJV)

If you have an ear for changes in this thing called English, you may have caught a new thing. You may have heard someone ask, “Is that a thing?” Or declare, “That should not be a thing.” The thing may be any cultural trend, preference or practice. I read it as being self-contained, with some kind of parameters. After all, if you add to or change or subtract from the thing too much, it becomes another thing, doesn’t it? Hold that thought.

There’s one old thing called American Evangelicalism. Having attended its churches for 25 years, I see some very sound parameters in it:

• The lordship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, fully God and fully man, who came to offer Himself as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of anyone who chooses to receive this gift.

• The authority of the Bible, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to tell the story of God’s relationship with humanity, lay out His commandments and, most important, instruct us in receiving and working out our salvation.

• A zeal for missions that surely places America among history’s great exporters of the faith.

• The often breathtaking generosity of believers with their time and resources toward people in need.

But that all has another name. It’s called, simply, Christianity. So what distinguishes American Evangelicalism? I’ll suggest a few things that are not so flattering:

• A strictly literal reading of the Bible without regard for literary form, historical context or other knowledge that may shed light on the meaning of the text.

• Fear and hatred toward people who violate real or perceived principles of “right” living.

• Lockstep political conservatism, without regard to whether the ideology on a given issue matches up with the Bible, or is even addressed there.

Now, I’m already oversimplifying. Not every American Evangelical ticks all of those boxes. And you can subdivide this thing, depending on denomination, culture or local norms. There are rigidly held dogma on correct versions of the Bible, forms of church music, attitudes toward alcohol, acceptable entertainment or any number of other issues.

Since I started this blog, one of my main activities has been deconstructing the thing I had been buying into, piece by piece, since I received my salvation more than 30 years ago. As I’ve turned them over, some of the building blocks have proved to be sound; others have not. So what does this have to do with you, the reader?

I’m not going to tell you what to keep or discard, except to say that those first four bullet points above seem to be a firm foundation, encompassing the Gospel message, where we find it and what we do about it. Beyond that, I can personally endorse examining every brick you’ve laid on that foundation. Pray over it; test it against God’s Word. Is God telling you to hold to this thing like life itself? Or is it an unnecessary barrier between you and other believers – or perhaps worse, between you and unbelievers?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have no more “things” in Christianity, not American Evangelicalism or any other variant, just people united by the Holy Spirit in worshiping and proclaiming the one true God in and through His one and only Son? Of course you can’t unthink your thoughts. You can have beliefs about all those peripheral things and order your own life accordingly. The trouble comes when they drive wedges between you and those who disagree.

How do we go down these rabbit holes, anyway? Here’s a thought: When a group is safe from external threats, there’s fertile ground for internal squabbles to grow and spread. Christianity in America has been very safe since the first European settlers colonized the continent. I hope it won’t take persecution to cleanse us of pointless differences. That would be a bad thing.

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